Luxury on The Rails

More visitors are enjoying the romance and ease of train travel

By: Monica Poling

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Interior of Palace on Wheels train
Even experienced travelers agree that one of the best ways to see a new destination is by watching its landscapes unfold through the panoramic window of a railcar. India, already known for its “Palace on Wheels,” understands the lure of the rails and continues to introduce new programs that allow visitors to focus on the country’s rich cultural, historical and social fabric.

Palace on Wheels
One of the world’s most luxurious rail tours, the famed Palace on Wheels takes visitors on a literal and figurative journey through India. Passengers delight in the scenery of Rajasthan, while also enjoying an opulent excursion down memory lane. Transporting guests back to the exotic days of the Maharajah, the Palace on Wheels features regal passenger coaches, white-glove service and first-class onboard amenities. The train’s popularity with new and repeat visitors, however, has occasionally made finding available dates challenging.

In 2008, an all new “Palace on Wheels II” will hit the tracks, connecting Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer and Bharatpur in Rajasthan. The new service promises to be even more deluxe than the original, featuring all-suite accommodations and such ultra-modern amenities as a dance floor, broadband Internet, spa and massage center and a boardroom.

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Many of India’s sites, such as the Taj Mahal,
can be visited by train.
Golden Chariot
Introduced in late 2007, The Golden Chariot is a new luxury rail tour traveling through Karnataka province’s World Heritage Sites. In addition to a full sightseeing complement, passengers can also enjoy such onboard amenities as Wi-Fi service, plasma televisions and a railcar completely dedicated to Ayurvedic spa treatments.

The tour begins in Bangalore, then travels to Mysore, Shravanbelgola, Belur, Halebid, Hampi, Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal, witnessing an eclectic range of attractions, from ancient palaces to wildlife sites and pilgrimage shrines. The Golden Chariot stops at Hampi, formerly the capital of the 14th-century Vijayanagara Empire, and Badami with its finely chiseled temples, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Before returning to Bangalore, visitors will spend a day relaxing on the golden sands of Goa.

Buddhist Circuit Trains (Maha Parinirvan Special)
In October, India also welcomed a special rail program designed to retrace the steps of Buddha.

The eight-day tour program, travels to landmarks such as Bodhgaya, where Buddha found enlightenment; Rajgir, Kushinagar and Nalanda, home of some of the oldest universities in the world; Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha; and Agra, famed home of the Taj Mahal.


Travel agents now have another way to learn about India’s offerings by attending the 2008 PATA Travel Mart, to be held in Hyderabad, Sept. 16-19.

“India is definitely growing in popularity,” said Vikas Rustagi, director of the India Tourism office in Los Angeles. “The country is now one of the top 10 destinations in the world.”

Last year, the country welcomed 4.5 million international visitors, an 18 percent increase over 2005. The U.S. is India’s second-largest inbound market. Airline connectivity to India is growing, and all major international carriers now offer routes between India and the U.S. Singapore Airlines, for example, flies to 11 destinations in India with 54 weekly departures. The airline, in cooperation with India Tourism, has developed the “Essence of India,” promoting India packages offered by U.S. tour operators.

India is also focusing much attention on rural and sustainable tourism programs.

“Many visitors want to experience a life of simplicity, and the country has identified 50 special villages in rural areas,” Rustagi said.

Several pre- and post-tour programs will be available during the PATA Travel Mart, allowing agents to experience for themselves India’s expanded offerings.


Four Seasons
Opening early 2008, the Four Seasons Mumbai features some of the largest rooms in the city, many overlooking the Arabian Sea.

Three new Westin properties are planned for India. The Westin Hyderabad, Mindspace, and the Westin Pune, Koregaon Park, are scheduled for 2009, while the Westin Kolkata Rajarhat is planned for 2010.

Bangalore, often referred to as the Silicon Valley of India, will welcome the Ritz-Carlton Bangalore in 2010.


Essence of India, Singapore Airlines

Four Seasons

India Tourism

Palace on Wheels

Ritz Carlton